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COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE | Form and Function: Innovation
Uses of Southland Work Spaces

A Different Kind of Banking Partnership


Did they come for cash or a cappuccino?

That's the question many Wells Fargo customers are asking inside the newly remodeled South Pasadena branch where the teller line begins near a new Starbucks coffee bar. In fact, the Starbucks espresso jockeys whip up coffee drinks at the same spot where tellers once dispensed cash. (The tellers have been moved farther back into the building.)

"I thought it was strange at first," said Aryana Olson, 22, as she took a break with an iced cappuccino and a bagel while bank customers tended to their business a few feet away. "But now I think it's nice because you can get more than one thing done at once."

The South Pasadena branch is one of seven where Wells Fargo & Co. and Starbucks Coffee Co. have teamed up to solve their mutual real estate problems. Wells Fargo--like many other banks--has been shrinking or closing branches that are too big and too costly to operate. Meanwhile, the ever-expanding Starbucks has been on the prowl for space in the same kind of prime locations where bank branches have traditionally been located.

The challenge was to remodel the existing building to accommodate two very different businesses without confusing customers and blurring corporate images. At the same time, the designers wanted to avoid creating a building reminiscent of a mini-mall.

"We didn't want to make it feel like a small urban strip center" with a row of divided retail spaces, said Arthur Rubinfeld, senior vice president for store development at Starbucks. "We wanted it to feel integrated."

The companies have experimented with two strategies. Some branches--like the one in Claremont--have simply been split in two to provide separate spaces for the bank and coffee shop. In contrast, the remodeled South Pasadena branch--which was completed in early March--has a large, shared area with the bank, the coffee shop and a copy center located on the edges. Future sites in Southern California might also include sandwich shops.

The bank relied on the coffee company's design team to come up with an interior that would make any longtime Starbucks customer feel at home. The colors and wood finishes are dark and rich, and sleek halogen lighting fixtures dangle from the ceiling. There's a working gas fireplace, and comfy high-back chairs and a row of desks with computer terminals that people may use for a fee.

"We've wrapped the bank with the other services that customers like to use on a frequent basis," said Joseph Laughlin, senior vice president of Wells Fargo's in-store banking group. "It creates a very different experience for our customers."

Customer traffic has risen at the site, particularly on Saturday mornings when many customers come in to do their banking and meet with friends over coffee, said branch manager Suzann Morzov.

"It's much more relaxed here," Morzov said. She recalled a recent rainy day when people sipped coffee by the fireplace and children worked on their homework at the computers. "It was just like being at home."

Wells Fargo customer Claudia Farfan said she was shocked the first time she came in, but has since become a frequent banking and coffee customer. Now her 3-year-old son is suffering from a bit of brand confusion. "My son associates Wells Fargo with coffee," she said.

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